Tall and stately, able to be recognised from afar because of their unmistakably shaped crowns, bunya trees are also prickly monsters. They are usually considered too large and too unfriendly for all but the largest gardens. The dagger-sharp dark-green leaves remind us that these survivors of the age of the dinosaurs had to fight for their existence with leaf-eating reptiles. The fallen branchlets remind small barefoot children that their grandparents did tell them to put their shoes on before they went out to play! Public planting of these trees has been restricted, in this age of litigation-phobia, because of the risk to passers-by of being hit by a falling cone. Bunya pines were often planted in the Victorian era, when a “pinetum” containing a collection of pines from around the world was a common feature of botanical gardens - and some of the more ambitious private gardens - in Britain, Europe, and the colonies. Of course our local gardeners were unlikely to ignore such a noble and fashionable local specimen, and soon discovered that this tree of the redsoils and rainforests also thrived in the heavy clay blacksoil on the frosty, windy plains. Grand old trees can be seen nowadays marking the sites of long-gone farms, or in avenues at some of our older homesteads.
The characteristic double crown is formed as a result of the plant’s habit of dropping its oldest branches. In a forest setting the trunks then remain bare, but when bunya trees are grown in the open they protect their naked trunks by growing new branches from the points where the old ones were shed. The newest branches on a tree are to be seen in two places - at the tip, and immediately below the longest branches of the top crown.
Bunya pine cones are as large as your head, and contain highly nutritious seeds, with a flavour somewhat like a chestnut. Properly cooked they are delicious. We may yet see plantations where the long-term plan for an income from the timber is partnered with exploitation of the quicker return from nuts, which are used in the bushfoods industry.
- Moderately fast-growing
- Frost hardy
- Drought resistant
- Suitable for blacksoil